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Sunday, March 31, 2013

One of the GREAT Movie Scenes of All Time: "Lazarus, Arise!" George Stevens' Response to Dachau


George Stevens' 1965 "The Greatest Story Ever Told" contains one of THE great movie scenes of all time, "Lazarus, arise!"

The film itself is long, lavish, with a big, big cast. It was one of the most expensive films ever made, and it took forever to make. Because it is slow-moving, many people hate it.

I love "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for an art film treatment of the life of Christ.

Is it fast moving? No, it is not. If you want "Robocop," this isn't your movie.

The slowness of this movie provides thoughtful people ample time to think about the history-shaping words being said, to soak up the beauty of the film itself.

Does Stevens attempt to recreate the sense one gets from looking at beautiful religious paintings? Yes. If you are one of those people who freeze frames beautiful shots, this is your movie.

Do big name stars appear in small roles? Yes. The most notorious cameo: John Wayne plays the Roman centurion who states, "Truly this man was the son of God." Yes it is hard not to giggle when you hear the Duke's distinctive, macho, Western drawl pronounce those words. For me that nanosecond of comic relief is not a bad thing.

The big name stars here are making a meta statement. George Stevens was moved to make the ultimate cinematic life of Christ by his experience of being among the first to document what happened at Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp. Coincidentally, Dachau was where Nazis imprisoned many Polish and German Catholic priests. It was called the largest monastery in Germany. Stevens first made "Diary of Anne Frank." Then he made "The Greatest Story Ever Told." These films were his defiance of Nazism, of war, of death.

Big name stars, like John Wayne, wanted to appear in even the tiniest of roles, because they sensed that Stevens was doing something special. If you can appreciate the big name cameos for what they are – Hollywood, the world's most powerful storytelling community, coming together to tell a story that matters – they will enhance the movie for you, rather than lessen it.

Max von Sydow gives the best performance of Jesus ever committed to film. If he never did anything else, he could die proud because of the truth he embodied in this part.

Just the look on von Sydow's face in his first scene – when he is being baptized by John – a look that is caring, human, loving, confused, pained, as he begins to realize what his life holds in store for him – is in itself marvelous, jewel-like in its purity, and unlike anything else I've ever seen an actor be able to do.

Just the look on Max von Sydow's face when he is baptized by John is worth seeing the film for
David McCallum is a complex, agonized Judas. He makes you feel for him. His death, as a sacrifice, is brilliant.

Charlton Heston captured the "take no prisoners" approach of the Biblical John the Baptist.

Donald Pleasance is the best Satan ever put on film. He's just an average, sort of nice guy who wants you to eat some food when you are hungry ... that's all. Harmless, really.

There are many scenes I would never want to have missed: the "lilies of the field" scene, John baptizing Jesus, Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus calling Matthew.

There are many effects that work perfectly for me: the handling of sound when Jesus is carrying his cross on the Via Dolorosa, for example.

"The Greatest Story Ever Told" racks up a very low 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I think Christophobia plays a role. Had Stevens made a similar movie about Buddha, it would be considered a classic.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pope Francis: A.) Submits to Muslims B.) Elevates Women C.) Blunders D.) Emulates Christ E.) Stoops to Conquer F.) Violates Canon Law G.) Horrifies Traditionalists H.) All of the Above I.) None of the Above


Jesus Washing Peter's Feet. Ford Madox Brown. Source

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

On Thursday, March 28, 2013, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates at a juvenile detention center, ages 14-21. Included was a Serbian Muslim girl.

Previous popes have performed the ritual on Catholic priests. This is the first time a female, and a Muslim, was included in the ritual performed by a pope. According to Huffington Post, "Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See's top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to bishops in 1988 making clear that 'the washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ, who came `not to be served, but to serve.'"

According to the International Business Times, "Chris Gillibrand, whose blog CathCon covers Catholic news, also disagreed with the pope's act. 'Given his active support for the charismatic movement in his Diocese, one can only be concerned that he could be prepared to ordain women," Gillibrand wrote. "How can the Pope maintain discipline in the Church if he himself does not conform himself to prevailing ecclesiastical legislation? [sic]'"

According to Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs, "this is stomach-churning dhimmitude. This isn't merely a lack of leadership; this is betrayal on an unimaginable level. Kill my people and I will wash and kiss your feet. For jihadists, this image could very well replace the burning twin towers as iconic of Islamic imperialism and conquest."

Eric Blake on Atlas Shrugs responded,

"You all are WRONG WRONG WRONG. Would an imam wash the feet of a woman? HELL NO! neither would Big Mo. She is being shown love, kindness and humility. This may be the one action that touches her heart and gets her thinking. This would never happen to her in her own religion. She is not a Devil, either, she is a human being who has been deceived by evil. You should all be ashamed of yourselves, especially if you are a Christian. P.S. I am not a Catholic, I am a Baptist"

Your thoughts?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shroud of Turin Dates to First Century AD: New Research


From Vatican Insider, March 26, 2013

"Professor Giulio Fanti and journalist Saverio Gaeta have published a book with the results of some chemical and mechanical tests which confirm that the Shroud dates back to the 1st century."

Full text of the article here.

My questions about the Shroud of Turin appeared on Barrie Schwortz's excellent website, here. They can be read here or in full, below:

The shroud has been subjected to imaging analysis by NASA scientists, to carbon dating, and to analysis, performed by criminologists and botanists, of the pollen particles found on its surface. Forensic pathologists have analyzed the death depicted on the shroud. At least since Descartes, the West has come to regard religion and hard science as polar opposite disciplines. It is this very intersection of religion and hard science that intrigues, delights, and perhaps even threatens many, and attracts many to the Shroud story.

In truth, though, and perhaps counterintuitively, the hard sciences are limited in their ability to crack the mystery of the shroud. This sounds contrary-science has come to be understood as the source of definitive truth. In this case, though, hard science has failed to provide an answer that satisfies the demands of Ockham's razor.

William of Ockham (1285-1347/49), positied that, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate;" that is, "Plurality should not be posited without necessity." In other words, Ockham's razor demands that, of two competing theories, the simplest explanation is preferred.

The shroud compels exactly because there is no simple or easy explanation. None of science's tests, including carbon dating, has changed that. None have produced a simple explanation that meets the demands of Ockham's razor.

One might argue, based on carbon dating, that the shroud is a simple forgery, dating from the middle ages. That theory is not best tested exclusively by hard science. Rather, insights from the social sciences and the humanities are necessary in cracking this mystery.

I am not a hard scientist. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Folklore Institute at Indiana University. Folklore, like its fellow social sciences, has demonstrated that human expressive culture follows rules, just as surely as carbon decay follows rules. One does not need to be a social scientist to understand this.

Suppose an archaeologist were to discover, in an Egyptian tomb, a work of art that followed the aesthetic prescriptions of Andy Warhol's 20th century American portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Certainly, hard science would argue that ancient Egyptians possessed all the technology necessary to produce such items of expressive culture. Ancient Egyptians had pigments; they had surfaces on which to draw. Hard scientists might see no mystery in a pharaonic Warhol Marilyn.

A non-scientist would have every reason to find such a blase' attitude bizarre. Of course the ancient Egyptians could produce Warhol-like art. The fact is, though, that they simply never did. Ancient Egyptians, like all artists everywhere, followed the artistic mandates of their time and place.

True, art does change, but it changes organically, slowly, and after leaving vast bodies of evidence of change in intermediary forms. For example, as different as it is, art from Greece's Golden Age can be seen to have grown from Egyptian art, in intermediary forms like Kouroi figures.

The shroud is as much an object of wonder and worthy investigation, in spite of carbon dating, as would be an isolated pharaonic Warhol, or a rock song that had been composed during the period of Gregorian Chant, or a Hopi vase that someone somehow came to made during the high point of peasant embroidery in Czechoslovakia. Yes, in each case, technology was available to create these anomalous forms; however, as any layman might well point out, humans did not choose to use available technology in order to create anomalous forms.

There are two consistently unaddressed flaws in the arguments of those who contend that the shroud must be of medieval origin, created by contemporaneously available technology. The first flaw is that even if technology had been available to create an image with all the remarkable features of the shroud, there is no way to explain why an artist would have done so.

This question must be explored not via carbon dating, NASA imaging, or pollen tests, but, rather, by comparison with other relics from the medieval era. I have not seen research by experts in medieval relics that attempts to compare and contrast the shroud with comparable artifacts from the medieval era. Does the shroud look like other relics, or does it not? If, as I suspect is true, it does not look like other relics from that era, then it behooves anyone who argues for a medieval date to explain exactly why. Those who argue this position must tell us why the equivalent of a Warhol portrait has been found among Egyptian artwork where the laws of human expressive culture dictate that it plainly does not belong.

In the writings of church reformers like Erasmus and Martin Luther, one can read descriptions of medieval relics. In fact, many relics once popular in the medieval era can be visited even today. Reformers like Erasmus and Luther expressed open contempt at the gullibility of the Christian masses. Bones that were obviously animal in origin were treated as if the bones of some dead saint. Random chips of wood were marketed as pieces of the true cross; random swatches of fabric were saints' attire.

Why, in such a lucrative and undemanding marketplace, would any forger resort to anything as detailed and complex as the shroud? Why would a forger resort to an image that would so weirdly mimic photography, a technology that did not exist in the Middle Ages?

Well, one might argue, the forger created the highly detailed, anomalous shroud in order to thoroughly trick his audience. This argument does not withstand analysis. The relic market is profoundly undemanding. It was profoundly undemanding in the Middle Ages; it is barely more demanding today.

The Ka'bah of Islam, the millions of Shiva lingams found throughout the Hindu world, the venerated sites of Buddha's footfall or Buddha's tooth, the packages of "Mary's Milk" on sale to Christian pilgrims in Bethlehem, are all contemporary relics that attest to the willingness of believers to believe in items that might look, to others, like simple rocks or standard, store bought powdered milk.

The faith in relics is not limited to the large, world religions; New Age is similarly flush with relics of a provenance, that, to non-believers, may seem comical at best. For example, a speech well beloved by New Agers, titled "Chief Seattle's speech," has long been known to have been written by a white Christian man living in Texas. This knowledge has not stopped many New Agers from believing that the speech issued, miraculously, from Chief Seattle.

The shroud does more than not follow the simple rules of relic hawkers. The shroud not only does not follow the laws of the expressive culture of medieval relics, it defies them. For example, blood is shown flowing from the man's wrist, not his hands. It is standard in Christian iconography to depict Jesus' hands as having been pierced by nails. This was true not only of the medieval era, but also today. What reason would a forging artist have for defying the hegemonic iconography of the crucified Jesus? Anyone who wishes to prove a medieval origin for the shroud must answer that question, and others, for example:

Items of expressive culture are not found in isolation. They are not found without evidence of practice. If one excavates an ancient site and finds one pot, one finds other pots like it, and the remains of failed or broken pots in middens.

If the shroud is a forgery, where are its precedents? Where are the other forged shrouds like it? Where is there evidence of practice shrouds of this type? If the technology to create the shroud was available in medieval Europe, where are other products of this technology? Humankind is an exhaustively exploitative species. We make full use of any technology we discover, and leave ample evidence of that use. Given the lucrative nature of the forgery market, why didn't the forger create a similar Shroud of Mary, Shroud of St. Peter, Shroud of St. Paul, etc.? And why didn't followers do the same?

I'm not attempting here to prove the shroud to be genuine. I am insisting that hard science alone cannot tell us the full truth about the shroud, and that ignoring the obvious questions posed by the humanities and the social sciences leaves us as much in the dark about the shroud as ever.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Widows in Judeo-Christian, Hindu, and Facebook Morality

Mocking Michelle Bachmann or other, right-wing politicians on facebook.
Is this morality? 
Sati or Suttee: Burning widows alive. Is this morality? 
Allowing a widow, Ruth, and a foreigner, a Moabite, access to your food supply:
Is this morality? 

The Biblical treatment of widows warms my heart.

Recently I needed rides to medical treatment. Hospital personnel would say to me, "Have a family member drive you." Or, "You must have a family member accompany you upon release from the hospital."

Problem: I have no family. I'm not a widow; I'm a spinster. I'm a woman, and I'm alone.

I asked for rides on facebook.

Otherwise invisibly good people stepped forward and gave me rides and often declined payment.

I think of a facebook friend – "Harry." He is always loudly in favor of whatever the left has declared the moral stance of the day: "Sign this petition now for gay marriage! Get angry right now at Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman or Republican Governor Sarah Palin or right-wing talk-show-host Rush Limbaugh! Sign this new petition right now against the war on women and to keep abortion safe and legal!"

In Harry's posts, moral fashions crest and retreat like ocean waves.

Harry lives close to me, on an inheritance. Doesn't have to punch a time clock.

Never offered me a ride to the hospital.

No, no, I'm not saying Harry's a bad guy. He's a good guy, a nice guy.

I'm saying that there are at least two kinds of morality at work here.

Facebook morality is a trendy morality, typified by flurries of stances of public outrage, caricatures of this moment's villain, and urgent petitions. I know that that morality is rooted in genuine care.

But there's another morality that has nothing to do with morality fashions orchestrated by the left. It has to do with more old fashioned, basic stuff: hunger, unemployment, isolation.

An awareness, and an articulation of basic, unglamorous, human need: I love this feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This person is hungry. He needs food.

This woman is alone. Give her a ride.

The Biblical treatment of widows warms my heart.

Widows are mentioned frequently in the Bible. One concordance lists 96 mentions of widows. I am very, very touched by the God who sees widows, who commands his people to care for widows.

God is not kidding when he says to take care of widows. "You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their cry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans" (Exodus 22:21-3).

God "executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing" Deuteronomy 10:18.

God commands, "At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town … the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do" Deuteronomy 14:28-29.

Ruth is a widow, a foreigner, and a heroine. She is also a role model to Jewish and Christian women, and one of Jesus's ancestresses.

Jesus reserves his highest praise for a widow: "As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'Truly I tell you,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"

***

Cultural relativism tells us that all religions are the same. Those imbued with cultural relativism assume that all religions counsel kindness to widows.

Hindu tradition orders sati, or suttee. Widows must burn themselves alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands.

Sati comes from the Sanskrit "sat" for "truth," the root of "satygraha," what Gandhi called his movement.

During the British colonial period, Christians William Carey and William Wilberforce played a key role in ending sati. Sati continued into the 20th century in Nepal and Bali – not colonized by Britain.

Widows, in Hinduism, are inauspicious. They are associated with the death of their husbands. Wives are to fast and pray for their husbands. Wives are never to say their husband's name. Maybe she didn't fast enough, or pray enough, maybe she said her husband's name, and that's what killed him.

There's a less superstitious, more practical reason why widows are marginalized. A woman has value to the extent that she is currently meeting a man's needs, and, in exchange, to the extent that she is receiving a man's protection and a portion of his resources.

If a woman is not currently meeting a man's needs, she has no value. She has no share in resources. She is disincluded at mealtime. She may die slowly of malnutrition or mistreatment. One can see why some widows actually chose sati. It was a quicker death.

I lived in Nepal. I visited the home of a high-caste widow who shaved her head, wore no jewelry, and dressed only in white, the color of mourning and death. She was allowed only simple foods, no meat. Hindu women rely on wearing red, and on wearing wrist bangles and beaded necklaces. Denying all these to widows is almost like asking them to go naked. The white clothing, shaved heads and absence of bangles announce: "Widow! Inauspicious! Stay away!"

***

The BBC recently broadcast Anthony Denselow's report on Vrindavan, a city of widows in India. Excerpt:

"Widows in India no longer throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. But life for them can still be hard.

Considered inauspicious, many soon find they have lost their income and are ostracised in their home villages. Some are sent away by their husbands' families who want to prevent them inheriting money or property.

This is one unusual aspect of Indian society that the government might prefer the outside world not to see, despite all their genuine efforts to solve the problem.

Sondi is a tough 80-year-old whose husband died young, she had to bring up her four children by herself. It is her daughter-in-law who effectively threw her out, saying it was her own husband who kept the family going and "as you have not got a husband you will have to look after yourself."

Full text of the BBC story is here

A Hindu's take on Hinduism's treatment of widows is here

Widows in India, in some times and places, were denied the right to wear blouses to cover their breasts.
Source: Wikipedia 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"I Am Telling You It is NOT Illegal!" An Overheard Conversation in the Adjunct Professors' Office

Charles Joshua Chaplin. A Conversation Overheard. Source

As I describe in "Save Send Delete," adjunct professor offices are weird, liminal spaces, somewhere between long-distance bus waiting rooms and church confessionals. They smell of incense, pretense and engine exhaust, but you can encounter intense dedication to scholarship and care for students in between the ignominy and the revolving door that promises us we will never enjoy the salary, health care, or pension of "real" professors.

One day in the adjunct office I overheard one half of a phone conversation. I was so fascinated by it I began taking dictation. Warning: I have no idea what this conversation means. My transcript, below:

"Hey, Lou, you've been my compadre. I want you to know that this new guy is taking your territory. I want to let you in on something. The President of the Albanian Federation will work with us. You'll give me ten percent, as usual. No, it won't be illegal. I've got this guy. He's a professional pool player in Albania. I'm telling you it's not illegal.

Yeah. See if you can get two of those. We'll put up a banner in the arena; you might get some business out of it. You have to assure me that you can deliver to the place up there a day or two before. I have people. I've got a couple people. I need the delivery made up there. They'll identify themselves. Pat Grint. He represents the people putting up the money.

Did I tell you it's not illegal?

You need to try to work on cornering this. We'll arrange something. I'll have him talk to you directly about a boatload over to Albania. Okay, thanks, Lou, God bless you. Oh, it worked out great. I ended up directing the artistic."

Nope, no noun at the end. Just, "I ended up directing the artistic."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Save Send Delete" "is a book for anyone who wishes to understand something about love, compassion, forgiveness, suffering, for anyone who grapples with the following questions: Why I am here? WTF is it all about? What is God?" Review by Liron Rubin from Amazon

"The Reader" by Henry A. "Harry" Payne. 1933. Source: Wiki Gallery

Full text of Liron Rubin's review of "Save Send Delete" from Amazon, below. Liron Rubin's original review can be viewed here.

***

"Save Send Delete" is beautifully written, funny, courageous, and heartbreaking

Warning: Do not read this book if you have to go to work in the morning. I started "Save Send Delete" on Tuesday evening, thinking I'd read for a couple of hours and then sack out. I didn't put the book down until 3 a.m., four hours before the dreaded beeping noise of the alarm clock. The book is that good. Or, as Goska would no doubt write, *that* good.

"Save Send Delete" is not what I expected it to be--to wit, a "Dangerous Liaisons" for Christians. It is, instead, a moving argument for faith in this vale of tears. Rarely have I read so convincing an argument for the religious worldview, and rarely have I been so powerfully moved by a book that is not a novel. No, "Save Send Delete" is not a Christian book; it is a book for anyone who wishes to understand something about love, compassion, forgiveness, suffering, for anyone who grapples with the following questions: Why I am here? WTF is it all about? What is God?

"Save Send Delete" is beautifully written. The style, which achieves the admirable feat of being both ice-cold and white-hot, is electrifying. Goska is never preachy, condescending, or, worse, sentimental. She states her arguments elegantly and clearly, and she has the wit and grace to remember that there are, after all, other opinions, other worldviews. One passage (I won't tell you which) helped me to resolve an issue that has been vexing me for some time. For that, I am grateful to the author.

"Save Send Delete" is funny. Goska's good-natured ribbing of her interlocutor is so funny (and, at times, raunchy) that even a potty-mouthed sailor like yours truly was impressed. I particularly liked this: "That's why you stopped believing in God? Because your debate opponent's stack of three-by-five cards was taller than yours? You p**sy."

"Save Send Delete" is courageous. For one who, as she tells us, was never taught to say "no" as a child, Goska seems to be doing a fine job of it as an adult: "No" to political correctness; "No" to apologists for jihad and Islamic misogyny; "No" to identity politics and self-pity; "No" to educators who encourage laziness in children. Instead, Goska urges us to say "Yes": "Yes" to calling atrocities by their name; "Yes" to forgiveness and compassion; "Yes" to God.

Finally, "Save Send Delete" is heartbreaking. Some of the emails are so raw in their melancholy and hurt that I found myself putting the book down at frequent intervals. I'm thinking, here, of the emails about the author's hellish period as a grad student, the emails about keeping faith in God in the face of mind-numbing suffering, and the emails about suicide. Virgil was right: there are tears in things.

Five stars for heart, five stars for mind. "Save Send Delete" is one hell of a book.

Devastating Critique of Islam and Western "Liberal" Apologists for it. "Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out" by Ibn Warraq. Book Review


Ibn Warraq's "Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out" offers a devastating indictment of Islam. Reading this book could be a life-altering experience for those Muslims who dared to do so. Also condemned: Islam's Western, "liberal" apologists and the dogma of cultural relativism. A woman tortured by the Islamic Republic of Iran, where torture was accompanied by recitations of Koranic verses, a survivor of what he calls Islamic "genocide" in Bangladesh, a woman who despises being forced to wear the veil: all accuse Westerner apologists of betraying Islam's victims and of deserting the true liberal's duty to stand for freedom, peace, and human dignity.

The majority of the authors grew up as Muslims in Muslim countries; a minority are Western converts who abandoned their adopted faith. Authors hail from throughout the Muslim world, including Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Malaysia. These authors were once children who committed the entire Koran to memory. They attended Muslim universities and studied with experts. One man admits that he killed innocent non-Muslims in the name of Islam.

These Muslim-born critics of Islam and Muslim societies offer some of the harshest and most utterly unforgiving criticisms of Islam available. They pull no punches: Islam is why my country is poor, ignorant and corrupt; Islam was the ideology used to justify the genocidal murder of my neighbors; Islam kept me and my fellow women in chains.

The authors make a mockery of the dogma of cultural relativism, so often cited by Western apologists: all cultures are equal; no one culture is any better than any other. We were the ones who suffered under Islam, they shout. You Western "liberals" made excuses for the people who denied us full lives, who tortured us and, once we became apostates, who denied us any life at all. Apostasy is a capital crime in Islam and punishable by death. And you Western "liberals" make excuses for that. You betray your own tradition of freedom and human dignity.

Cultural relativism insists that those who grow up in a culture will be happy with features of that culture that outsiders might criticize, for example, Islam's treatment of women. The pages of this book belie that assertion. These former Muslim authors are outraged by the very same features of Islam that outrage non-Muslims. Specifically, they object to jihad, gender apartheid, Islam's anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and dhimmitude.

They object to the sadistic tortures for unbelievers, both in this life and in the afterlife, outlined in detail in the Koran. In this life, no Muslim should take non-Muslim friends. Rather, non-Muslims should be crucified; their hands and feet should be cut off. In the afterlife, non-Muslims will be dressed in clothing made of fire, they will be dragged into boiling water, they will be hooked on iron rods, and their skin will melt. Their melted skin will be replaced with fresh skin so they can be tortured anew.

This book's authors object to Mohammed's transparent cruelty, narcissism, and megalomania. One former Muslim describes doubt creeping in when he read in the Koran, sura 49, that one must not speak loudly to Mohammed. Would God really command such a trivial thing, a command designed solely to cement Mohammed's superior position? Another asked why Muslims must constantly bless Mohammed, as if he were a deity. Why did God himself pray for Mohammed? Another wondered why God speaks only Arabic.

One former Muslim wondered why God needed women, even if they were alone, to cover themselves before prayer. Several former Muslims report being deeply disturbed by Mohammed's claiming Aisha when she was six years old and he was over fifty. They were troubled by accounts of Mohammed enjoying watching Aisha play with dolls. They recoiled from Mohammed's use of captive women whose menfolk he had just murdered, and his treatment of women as war booty for his troops.

One former Muslim dismisses Edward Said, the Arab author of "Orientalism," a book that descries Western criticism of Islam: Edward Said wrote "nothing to vindicate Islam from the obvious charges against it." Bernard Lewis, a scholar excoriated by Islam apologists, "is a much better guide to Islam than Said," wrote this former Muslim.

The most harrowing account in the book is by a survivor of the Bangladesh War of 1971. The author describes atrocities he witnessed and barely missing his own death. He details how Pakistanis used Islamic concepts as the rationale for their atrocities. Mass murder of Hindus was justifiable, these Pakistanis reasoned, because, by Muslim standards, they were polytheists unworthy of life. Mass rape was similarly justified using Koranic verses and Islamic precedents regarding the treatment of women in war. The attitude of Pakistanis toward their conduct in this ugly war is echoed by Anwar Shaikh, who used his own understanding of Islam to murder innocent Sikhs for no other reason than that they were not Muslims.

Every claim that the book makes is substantiated with extensive quotes from the Koran, hadith, and mainstream Islamic opinion and tradition. Ibn Warraq is contemptuous of attempts to whitewash the meaning of "jihad" and he offers ample support for his position.

In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan uttered a world-changing line, "Tear down this wall!" His reference was to the wall, and to the Soviet system, that kept Eastern Europeans captive. Some brave leader must issue the same challenge to the Muslim world: "Tear down your walls." Eliminate capital punishment for apostates from Islam and critics of it. Allow free debate of Islam. Only then can Muslims know if Islam's 1.6 billion followers follow the faith because they accept, respect, and believe in its teachings, and not because they are afraid of being murdered by their fellow Muslims if they voice one peep of criticism.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sacrifice in the Green Briar Review

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia 
An essay by me entitled "Sacrifice" appears in the Green Briar Review. You can read the essay here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Are Protestants Addressing Anti-Catholic Bigotry?

Two lynched Italian immigrants, Florida, 1910
Source: Without Sanctuary Website. This is photo 6

Like many Catholics, I have been chatting on facebook about the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy.

Last night, in a friend's discussion thread, I came across numerous posts from one Dan Smith that denigrated Catholics and Catholicism.

I visited Mr. Smith's facebook page, which included a link to an online "sincere question," "I am Catholic. Why should I consider becoming a Christian?" and to a facebook page called "The Voice of Truth" that included posts that equate Catholicism with Satan.

Dan Smith is probably not an influential person. His posts included non-standard spelling, including "vurse" for "verse" and "cathoism" for "Catholicism."

I mention Dan Smith because he is the anti-Catholic bigot I confronted yesterday. I've confronted many more. I've been told I can't be hired as full-time faculty at a "Christian" college because I am Catholic. Interestingly, this same institution hires Catholics as adjuncts. Catholics can influence students at this school; they just cannot enjoy the perquisites of fulltime employment, like health care and a pension.

I've been told that I will go to Hell because I am Catholic, and that God does not hear my prayers because I am Catholic. Recently, after praying for an acquaintance who had received a devastating medical diagnosis, I was told that my Catholic prayers were "idolatrous."

In other words, anti-Catholic bigotry is endemic among Protestants I know.

When I've mentioned anti-Catholic Protestant bigotry to Protestants in the past, they say, "Don't lump all Protestants together." But I've heard this bigotry from Lutherans, Episcopalians, Evangelicals, Baptists, and self-appointed internet freelancers. It runs across the spectrum of Protestant belief.

Above is a very grim photo: two Italian immigrant men who were lynched in Florida in 1910. I include this photo for a couple of reasons. One of my family members was lynched. His crime was being a "little Polak." Anti-Catholic bigotry has a very ugly, murderous history, including the Know Nothings and the KKK.

Question: Are Protestants addressing this at all?

Has there ever been a Protestant version of Nostra Aetate? Has there ever been a Protestant version of John Paul II's 1999-2000 Jubilee Year statements on Memory and Reconciliation, the Church and the Faults of the Past?

There is no Protestant pope, but there are influential Protestant individuals and bodies.

If Protestants have addressed the endemic bigotry against Catholics among them, why has that not trickled down to the Protestants I meet in real life?

I honestly don't know. I'm asking.

I've never experienced anything comparable among Catholics. No Catholic has ever told me that he or she assumes that Protestants are not really Christian, or that they are going to Hell, or that their worship is Satanic.

Mr. Smith's facebook page is here.

Typical Protestant anti-Catholic sites can be found here, here, here, here … there are thousands, perhaps millions more.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Small Moment that Touched Me in a Big Way

Norman Rockwell. Source

This morning at a new doctor's office, one I'd never been to before. Arrangements had been made in advance so that this visit would be covered by an independent charity agency for this kind of care. This is all the folks at this office knew about me – that I live in Paterson, a locally notorious, low-income, high-crime city, and that I couldn't pay for their medical services.

Doctor's visit was over and I was being serviced by a technician. Middle-aged white man, very short hair, small, narrow-framed glasses. White shirt. Officious. No bedside manner. No radiation of warmth. The kind of guy who'd be the one we'd want the female lead in a romantic comedy to dump so that she could go off with Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Tom Hanks.

Generic White Tech Guy told me I would need to return in a couple of days to pick something up.

"Is there any way you could mail it to me?" I asked. "I can give you money for postage."

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"I walked here this morning from Paterson," I said. "It took me three hours."

And a bit of sanity. I walked one road, straight, without turning, from sidewalk drug dealers and garbage avalanches to McMansions and running brooks and nature preserves and private, pine-enshrouded, alpine-architecture academies for Christian students.

Generic White Tech Guy said nothing. Got up. Went into the next room. I listened. Was he calling the charity agency to report that I was too much trouble?

"Billy, is mommy home? How about your older brother? We have a patient here and she needs a ride home."

I can't say here how much that phone call touched me.

There are people like that out there. And moments like that.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Synchronicity or Littlewood's Law of Miracles and "Pattern Seeking Behavior"?

Found this photo while doing a google image search of "synchronicity." Source: Working Class Mag
One need not be gorgeous or nude for synchronicity to occur. 
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung gave us the word "synchronicity"  source
"Rand" and I had been involved for almost a year. At its best our email exchange was exhilarating, warming, and fun – the one sunny spot in my Cinderella existence as an impoverished adjunct professor. At its worst, our interaction was merely weird, confusing, and, I knew, an immoral Dead End. Rand was a famous married atheist I had never met. I was eager to make a clean break and move on.

Our relationship was conducted via email. My emails to him were composed and sent from my desk in my apartment.

One Saturday morning, with the new determination to make a clean break from Rand, I got up from the desk and walked to the campus where I work.

I went to a computer in the office and went to an internet dating site. I thought, I need to meet someone else. That will make breaking up with "Rand" go down easier.

The very first photo I saw on the dating site was of a pleasant looking man. I thought, him. He can help me forget Rand.

The photo of the pleasant looking man was small. It was a thumbnail. To enlarge it, you clicked on it. I clicked on the photo and enlarged it. In the larger version of the photo I could see that the pleasant looking man was standing next to Rand.

Really.

What are the odds?

Was this mere coincidence? Or was it synchronicity? Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung invented the word "synchronicity." Here's how Wikipedia defines synchronicity: "the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner."

I told "Rand" about my resolution to forget him, going to a dating site, and clicking on the first picture I saw, only to confront a photo of him. This story freaked Rand out. He was sure it meant something. He pressed hard for us to meet in person.

Rand, of course, in his work as an atheist, "debunks" synchronicity.

He wasn't interested in debunking it when it occurred to him.

***

"Save Send Delete" tells the true story of my yearlong, emailed debate / love affair with a prominent atheist.

He knew how to prove synchronicity to be fallacious: Littlewood's Law of Miracles. So many things happen that it is inevitable that some of the things that happen will appear to be miraculous. Also, humans are pattern seekers. We insist on seeing meaning – pictures of bears and dippers – in random scattering of stars, for example.

Fair enough.

What Littlewood's Law of Miracles does not explain, though, are those moments when the mind is involved – in other words, when what I call "the little voice" – what you may call your inner voice, inner knowing, intuition or sixth sense – is involved. You might just bump into your long lost sweetheart at a party – and Littlewood's Law of Miracles might adequately account for that coincidence. It's just pure chance. But what if before you go to that party, your inner voice tells you that you must attend the party, that you will meet a significant person there?

***

Recently the public radio show "This American Life" broadcast an episode on coincidences entitled "No Coincidence, No Story." The show consists of one beyond-chance event after another.

A man asks a woman to send him a photo of herself. She sends him a photo of herself as a child. Without her realizing that this is the case, the man's grandmother is walking behind her in the photo. The woman is from Utah. The man is from Michigan. The grandmother lived in Florida. The photo was taken in Vancouver. What are the odds?

Many more stories on the "This American Life" website, here

Friday, March 8, 2013

Save Send Delete is "The Best Thing I Have Read on Faith or Lack of Faith in God"

source

"'Save Send Delete' is the best thing I have read regarding faith or lack of faith in God."

Very touched and grateful for the latest Amazon review from Nachman Rosenberg. Full text, below.

"When I picked the book up I could not put it down. This is a truly remarkable work - one side of a dialogue that debates the existence of God, and veers off into other very personal matters. The literary device of presenting one side of a dialogue, along with thoughts not conveyed in the form of deleted messages, was very interesting and challenging. I enjoyed the exercise.

I am so impressed - with the scope and depth of Goska's knowledge; with her insight and understanding of human nature; with her ability to craft a compelling line of persuasive argument; with her explanation and inversion of arguments that to me seemed compelling in support of lack of faith; and with her ability to put it into an understandable form.

'Save Send Delete' was the best thing I have read regarding faith or lack of faith in God. It gave me quite a few things to think about."

Link to the above review on Amazon here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Is This Racist? Could You Be Convinced It Is Racist? Would You Say It Was Racist to Gain Approval from Your Teacher? "Song of the South"

Norman Rockwell's Depiction of Uncle Remus
Br'er Rabbit and Uncle Remus from the 1946 Disney film "Song of the South" 
If the above images of Uncle Remus are racist, why isn't this image of Fifty Cent racist? Explain please. 

You are in a college classroom. The professor tells you that she is about to show you a film clip. After you finish viewing it, she wants you to write two paragraphs. The first paragraph will record the objective facts of what you just saw: the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The second paragraph will record your feelings about what you saw.

Something about the professor's attitude has you a bit scared. There is tension in the dark classroom. You are anxious. What are you about to see?

In fact, though, the film clip turns out to contain no sex or violence or sedition. It's a clip from a 1940's Disney film. It's set in the South, probably sometime in the late nineteenth century. A very cute little boy is running away from home. He happens across an elderly black man who takes the boy to his cabin and tells him a story about Br'er Rabbit. Br'er Rabbit runs away from home and almost falls into the clutches of Br'er Fox, but, through his wits, manages to escape at the last minute. The fable warns the boy that running away from home won't solve his problems. The old man sings a peppy song, "Zip a dee doo dah." The boy is delighted.

The film clip ends. The screen goes up; the classroom lights come back on.

You breathe a sigh of relief. That was a simple enough film clip. Nothing scary. It's easy enough to write up the two paragraphs. You liked the sweetness and sentimentality of the film, and think that it would be good for small children, but it's not your cup of tea.

The teacher tells students to put down their pens. She asks for student reactions.

Explosion.

An African American student is outraged. She hasn't spoken much all semester. Today she speaks rapidly, angrily and loudly. The film is racist, insulting and demeaning. It is part of white supremacy. Just watching the clip has poisoned the whole class.

The student holds her hand to her chest. She had been shy for most of the semester. Speaking has obviously cost her some effort. She glares at the class. Who will support her? Who will dare to disagree and support this racist film? Who are the racists in class? Her eyes seem to defy anyone to disagree.

A white student, an outspoken feminist and English major, joins in. She's heard about this evil film and denounces it roundly. "Disney banned 'Song of the South'!" She shouts. Not really. Disney has not released it on DVD. You can watch the film on youtube.

You were going to raise your hand and contribute to the discussion, but now you are nervous. "What's wrong with me?" you think. "Why didn't I realize that I was watching an evil film?" You shrug and wait for the discussion to boil over.

Some students, obviously flabbergasted, look to the teacher. What is the approved reaction? What reaction will earn the highest grade?

***

I've been showing this same clip from Walt Disney's 1946 film "Song of the South" for some years now.

Two aspects of this oft-repeated scenario frighten and educate me.

One: Many students don't know the difference between thoughts and feelings. Students produce meaningless sentences like: "I feel that this is good for children." "I think that I enjoyed this."

What's more troubling – much more troubling – the students who react most vehemently to "Song of the South" often can't describe the objective facts of what they saw.

Really. They cannot tell you what they saw. They cannot tell you what Disney put on the screen.

What can they say? "I am outraged. That is racist. I've been victimized. That is racist. I'm very hurt. That is racist."

"What? Tell me, what specific feature of 'Song of the South' is racist?"

"It's racist, I'm telling you. Don't tell me you like that movie. It's racist."

"What? What aspect of the film is racist?"

"It's racist! I'm hurt!"

"Okay. I get it that you are hurt. That's subjective. That's emotions. It's good that you can report that. Let's turn to the objective, to consensus reality. What specific aspect of the film is racist to you? Is it that Uncle Remus speaks in a Southern black dialect? Is it that he is wearing shabby clothes? What specific feature strikes you as racist, and why?"

"You are white! You cannot know how much that film hurts me! It's racist and we should not watch it!" I've had the conversation, described above.

I want to change it. I don't want to make students who don't like "Song of the South" like it. I want students, all students, to know how to differentiate thoughts from feelings. I want students to be able to say, with specificity, what feature of a work of art makes it a racist work of art, and why. I don't want anyone to use a sense of victimization as a weapon to intimidate, bully and silence others. "I am hurt and my people have been hurt; therefore, you must agree with me." That approach denigrates and circumvents thought, scholarship, and why we have college classrooms in the first place.

I fear, though, that previous teachers have rewarded students for that stance of public outrage. Whipping up outrage is a practice of political agitators; it is not the best strategy for real teachers. Too many teachers today are eager to whip up outrage, and resist actually supplying students with problem-solving skills.

Two: Students can be intimidated into saying what appears to be the most politically advantageous thing.

My students write down their reaction to "Song of the South" before they know what other students will say. The vast majority of students – over ninety percent – report that the film is a sentimental tale for children, a typical Disney cartoon. Only about ten percent, in their written work, allege that the film is racist.

When classroom discussion begins, those who object to "Song of the South" are often the most vocal. The majority of students who found the film sweet and old fashioned often look confused. Were we supposed to find this film racist?

I strive to remain neutral. When the students who object to the film speak, I write their points on the blackboard. It's frightening and depressing to me to view the facial expressions of many, but not all, of the students who liked the film. Some of them appear to be deciding that they, too, will find the film racist – not because they really believe that it is, but because that is the politically advantageous stance to take.

I fear that if I took a strong stance that "Song of the South" is a racist film, some students might parrot that stance – not because they really believe it, but because the teacher says so.

***

Me? I see both sides. I see why some object to "Song of the South." I see why others embrace it. I strive to present both sides to my students.

BUT the important thing is this – however students feel about "Song of the South," the best teachers, and the best education, will not indoctrinate them into parroting the teacher's stance. It will not browbeat them and bully them with others' suffering to adopt an opinion that is not their own.

Rather, the best teachers, and the best education will encourage students to separate facts from feelings. The best teachers, and the best education, will equip students to make their point using objective facts.

Good Soldier Svejk. Drunk, unshaven, sloppy, in jail, and singing a bawdy song.
I'm not black. I'm Slovak. We are also the oppressed. I told my students, who have never heard of Slovakia, that, historically, Slovaks have been peasants who are invaded and massacred and oppressed. I told them about Lidice, a village the Nazis wiped out. I told them about Soviet tanks rolling in to crush Prague Spring.

I told my students that we greatly admire a folk hero named Good Soldier Svejk. Svejk is fat, unshaven, and a slob. He gets drunk and behaves stupidly. And he is our hero.

Why?

My students totally understand. Of course people who are oppressed and massacred would want a hero who is a Wise Fool, a man who keeps his head down and displays his intelligence in ways that appear foolish, a charming subversive.

Can you understand, then, I ask, why Uncle Remus is a Wise Fool? And why some might admire him, even though his clothes are shabby and he does not speak Standard English?

Hmmm … maybe.

***

A couple of good scholarly articles about Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus:

"The Ultimate Irrelevance of Race: Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus in Their Times" by Wayne Mixon, here.

"Black Father: The Subversive Achievement of Joel Chandler Harris" by Robert Cochran, here.



Uncle Remus telling one of his stories.